President John F. Kennedy in a 1962 speech at Rice University spoke about why the country should have the goal of going to the moon by saying that “we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
As it was in 1962 with space, it is now with technology in general and computer science specifically. The consequences of not making computer science education a national priority are dire. The next generation could be left without a core competency that will be needed to be a central part of the economy of the future not because they lack the talent but because they lack the access. Immediate and urgent action is required.
Expanding access to computer science at an accelerated rate in 2022 is pivotal. Computer science courses in high school should be the norm as opposed to an anomaly. The need to expand access to computer science and the broader push for the integration of more people into the emerging tech fields is becoming more urgent as the cost-of-living surges. Equipping more people to have the opportunity to be a part of the economic mainstream that is represented by burgeoning tech ecosystems is paramount.
Randy Raymond, a Google software engineer is on a mission to help expand access to computer science in the emerging tech hotbed of South Florida. Raymond knows from his own life experience what kind of impact early exposure to computer science can have on the trajectory of people’s lives. His first exposure to tech was through making video games at 10 years old through software called RPG Maker for the computer. He had to learn how to code to make the game.
Raymond never got any formal training in the field until he took Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science in his senior year of high school at Suncoast Community High School in West Palm Beach, Florida where they also had a computer science track.
A recent article in Diverse: Issues In Higher Education about AP Computer Science highlighted a study that showed “that students who took AP CSP were over three times as likely to major in computer science when they advanced to college. They are also twice as likely to enroll for AP CSA, a course that focuses on programming languages. Those increases were seen across all desired demographics, including first generation college students.”
Raymond then attended the Google Computer Science Summer Institute (CSSI) after his senior year in high school. This experience solidified his decision to major in Computer Science at Harvard University. CSSI “is a three-week introduction to computer science for graduating high school seniors with a passion for technology- especially students from historically underrepresented groups in the field…..It’s an intensive, interactive, hands-on and fun program that seeks to inspire the tech leaders and innovators of tomorrow by supporting the study of computer science, software engineering and other closely related subjects.”
The extension and portability of programs like the Google CSSI are vital at this time. Raymond desires to give students the opportunity to see the passion that they can find in technology through partnering with public and private entities to make these kinds of programs more accessible.
The current practice of companies paying exorbitant amounts of money to sponsor international talent through H-1B visa and other mechanisms can be redirected towards the development of new pipelines from communities that currently lack access. Corporations should be incentivized to invest in underserved communities through the creation of accelerated pathways in computer science.
The K-12 and higher educational system should build partnerships with these corporations and others to expose students to STEM careers and curriculum early in the education process. Higher education institutions can partner with school districts and/or community organizations to expand access in the short term until more permanent computer science courses are embedded for the masses of students. This can be done initially through existing avenues like AP Computer Science and dual enrollment arrangements.
Like Kennedy’s “Space Race”, this new push for access to computer science education will take a massive commitment of money for equipment and financial investment in people to pay talented instructors and facilitators competitive salaries to execute the mission. This public policy commitment and national priority placement is needed in order for people to be prepared to take advantage of the plethora of opportunities that the tech sector has to offer.
Dr. Marcus Bright is a scholar and educational administrator.